For fine art of pumpkin carving, sometimes knife will not suffice

October 23, 2004|By ROB KASPER

HALLOWEEN IS creeping toward us and pumpkins must be carved.

There was a time when all that was required was a long, sharp knife and an ability to carve triangles. Two triangles worked for the eyes and another triangle served as the nose. As for artistic touches, there was the dangled tooth.

That was the era of old-school pumpkin carving. Nowadays, thanks to the usual forces promoting massive cultural change - the Internet, power tools and sex - pumpkin carving can become complicated, even provocative.

If, like me, you are the kind of person who spends an afternoon perusing pumpkin-carving Web sites, you will find that many of these sites are ruled by gender.

The guy Web sites, such as one called extremepumpkins. com, are advocating using potent power tools to slice up pumpkins. A Sawzall decapitates a pumpkin. A jigsaw is used for the detailed cuts and a router removes the outer layer of pumpkin flesh to give the orb the "glow effect."

Using expensive power tools to attack pumpkins is, some might say, an example of "testosterone poisoning." That opinion gains credence when you see what the pumpkins look like after they have been subjected to the power tool treatment.

There is the puking pumpkin, which shows the seeds being expelled from the pumpkin's mouth. There is a pumpkin mourning the demise of the Olympia beer brewery in Tumwater, Wash. And there is the expected naked lady pumpkin, a silhouette of the female form usually seen on the mud flaps of tractor-trailers. As for illumination, the extreme pumpkin site suggests road flares. They're only good for 15 minutes, according to the site, but they put on quite a show. Typical male behavior, some women would say.

At the other end of the spectrum are Web sites, such as pumpkinmasters.com and pumpkincarving101.com, which feature cute, even pretty images. This would be the feminine side of pumpkin carving.

The pumpkins on these sites show smiling faces, spiders and cats. Their recommendations favor the long-term and the practical; for example, removing the bottom of a hollowed-out pumpkin and placing it over the light source. Instead of buying three road flares at $7 to fire up the pumpkin, they suggest recycling empty jars of cheese spread and dropping candles in them.

To produce what some gals would call a festive aroma - or what some guys would call "that craft store smell" - these sites recommend sprinkling the pumpkin lid with cinnamon or nutmeg. Finally, to revive a drooping pumpkin, they opt for the solution favored by moms for almost any ailment: a bath (soak shriveled pumpkin in bucket or bathtub for 1 to 8 hours, pat dry).

This being an election year, I also found plenty of images of Sen. John Kerry and President Bush that could be placed on pumpkins. Some were respectful, some not. In the midst of all this juvenile behavior by adults around Halloween it is easy to forget that its biggest fans are kids.

Late this week I got a fresh perspective on the kid view of pumpkin carving when I visited the home of Ned Pollard, 8, and his 4-year-old sister, Lucy. They reside a few doors down the block from me and were "helping" their dad, Hal Pollard, test out a Dremel pumpkin-carving kit that I had passed along to him. Their mom, Chris Myers, was also there, lurking in the wings.

The kit consists of a battery-operated tool about the size of an electric toothbrush with a grinder that rotates at two speeds - 6,000 or 12,000 revolutions per minute. It also has a number of templates of designs to apply to the pumpkin.

Apparently these kits, which appeared on the market earlier this month, are hot sellers. Yesterday Justin Matusek, the national product manager for Dremel, told me that the initial supply of about 20,000 was virtually sold out. The few remaining kits, which he said range in price from $20 to $30, can be found at some Lowe's or ordered directly from Dremel (1-800-437-3635) in Wisconsin.

Hal had picked a pattern for the pumpkin face that was midway between frightful and frilly. The trouble was we could not figure out how to transfer the pattern to the pumpkin face. Hal ended up drawing the pattern on the pumpkin with a marker.

Later Matusek told me that was the hard way. The easier approach, he said, was to attach the pattern to the pumpkin with spray adhesive, then rout out the black parts of the pattern with the tool. It helps, Matusek said, to have an extra copy of the pattern to refer to because the one on the pumpkin tends to get soggy. Matusek said he had recently created a "SpongeBob Squarepants" pumpkin for his 3-year-old, downloading the cartoon character's image from a Web site, fixing it to a pumpkin and then carving out the pattern with the tool.

When Hal snapped on the Dremel tool, I saw that instead of cutting through the pumpkin, its grinding end removed the skin, leaving a translucent layer.

Ned, 8, handled the tool for a while, doing a little work around the pumpkin's eyes. But his dad did most of the skin removal.

I was reminded that the most difficult part of pumpkin carving, or any activity with young children, is maintaining emotional harmony. At one point, Lucy, 4, angered at her treatment, withdrew permission for us to carve "her" pumpkin, one of the four in the household.

It took about an hour to draw the pattern, grind it out, then cut off the pumpkin top and scoop out its innards. More than likely the task would have moved along faster had we taped the pattern to the pumpkin rather than copying it, by hand with a marker.

By the time their dad had finished, the kids were on to other tasks. Lucy was playing with the pumpkin seeds, Ned was trying on his Halloween costume. I was trying to remember why parents put themselves through all this travail.

Then the lights were turned down and a candle illuminated the elaborate handiwork. The little girl squealed, the big brother announced the pumpkin was "cool" and somehow all the effort seemed worth it.

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